Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Expectations always are high.
A half-decade of outstanding records, league titles and NCAA Tournament appearances have seen to that.
Which is why a 1-5 start by the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team is double-take worthy. After all, the Skyhawks haven’t lost more than five games in an entire season since the 2006-07 campaign.
Since then, it’s been five consecutive seasons of 26 or more wins, each ending with an NCAA Tournament berth.
But in that span, FLC hasn’t endured both the loss of its head coach and four of its top five scorers in the same offseason like this team has, only to open the season against six teams with a combined 24-11 record, all away from home.
Mark Kellogg, the architect of those five consecutive tournament teams, left for Northwest Missouri State this offseason, while Dana Schreibvogel, Jamie Simmons, Mary Rose Paiz, Jenna Santistevan and Stephanie Beeman all graduated, leaving sizeable holes in the frontcourt.
But the new head coach, Jason Flores, isn’t making excuses. While remaining optimistic about his team’s prospects, he’s aware changes need to be made in a hurry if the Skyhawks want to get back to their usual lofty perch.
FLC will host Adams State at 5:30 p.m. today at Whalen Gym.
“I think we’ve all been frustrated to a point. The good part is there are things we have to get better at, and they know what those things are,” Flores said. “Until you get to that point where you actually get better as a team to those points, it’s almost like you can’t be frustrated until you play better.”
After all, the cupboard isn’t devoid of talent. The loss of so much post experience has FLC running a four-guard lineup, and those guards know their way around the basketball court.
Katerina Garcia returns at the point alongside fellow returning starter Ashley Kuchar. Alex Easterbrook, typically accustomed to handling point guard duties herself, now is running alongside Garcia in the starting lineup, with gunner Erika Richards, second on the team in scoring a year ago, shooting into the starting lineup as well.
Getting used to a different attack has taken a bit of time, but Easterbrook feels it’s just a matter of patience.
“It’s a lot of girls trying to get experience, kind of, and I feel like it’s just a matter of time,” she said. “And once we mesh with the new system, I mean, we’re on track to.”
Christie Groh goes from being at the end of a very long line for playing time in the frontcourt right to the front after appearing in just 20 of 31 games a season ago. She’s acquitted herself well thus far, averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game in a vastly expanded role, and Flores is hoping to get back to pounding the paint after FLC got a bit 3-happy in recent losses.
“The perimiter kids that we have, they want to shoot 3s. They’re spot up 3-point shooters, and that’s their comfort zone,” Flores said. “Trying to not have to live off of that has been a challenge, but that’s something that we’ve worked on this week, and we have in the past.”
The bench, however, is paper thin on experience, and getting acclimated in a hurry will be crucial if the Skyhawks hope to make a run in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Guard Erin Curry played 81 minutes in 16 games last year, making her the most experienced player on the FLC bench, with Kaile Magazzeni close behind with 76. The rest of the reserves didn’t play last year or are true freshmen. With so little collegiate game experience, it’s taken time to define roles.
“I believe we’re still working on our roles. We’re still trying to figure out what our roles are, and I think we’re starting to get there,” said Garcia, a Durango High School alumna.
“Once we figure that out, and it clicks together, and we mesh well together, then yes, things are going to start going in the opposite direction.”
Finally playing at home should be a boost. But there’s always the worry that the longer this losing streak lasts – five games and counting at present – that players may press and try to do too much to stop the slide.
Easterbrook said she thinks the team can avoid that pitfall and stay cohesive. If she’s right, the Skyhawks have a shot at a turnaround.
“I think we’ve seen the negative affects of trying to do too much personally. ... As long as we stick together as a team, I think we realize that’s how we’re going to win,” Easterbrook said.